That’s Just the Way it Goes


Japan being traditional (in terms of its legal system), and sticking to its guns can be seen as a double-edged sword. It’s nice to see consistency, and enforcing the notion that no one is above the law, but is it going too far? Recently, after arriving at the Narita International airport, English comic actor Russell Brand was deported from Japan due to his criminal record from over a decade prior. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, though. He was not the first celebrity to be unceremoniously expelled from Japan.

Japan has strict laws that must be followed by everyone, without exception. This is one of the ways I can tell that Japan isn’t too corrupt – even the people who have money and fame cannot just get away with anything. The problem lies when people have done relatively minor things. In the perspective of Japanese law, the response to this would be “So what? Why would we cater to criminals? If they did not want to have a record, they should not have broken the law.” Some exceptions can be made, as I believe they should (for example, with minor parking violations), but I certainly don’t sympathize with people who get busted for doing drugs, which Japan is particularly strict on.

It was 1980 when Paul McCartney came to Japan with half a pound of marijuana. He was promptly deported – which was lucky for him, considering this may have resulted in serious jail time if it was a random person, not a well-known and respected celebrity. I remember reading the account of an anonymous American college graduate who was describing the treatment he got for possessing an apparently negligible amount of marijuana. It was a depressing story, where he was ignored, not spoken to in much English, and ended up spending some time in jail and being deported. …But at the end of the day, I really felt a lack of sympathy. He knew it was illegal and did it anyways. As long as people know that there’s a zero-tolerance policy on drug use, I don’t think there’s any excuse for doing it. If it really is a problem, then there are always drug and alcohol treatment programs available.

Last year, Australian golfer Wayne Perske was busted  in Chiba Prefecture after using cocaine in a bar. A customer called the police and found that he had more cocaine on him, eventually leading to a year and a half in jail that he is currently serving. Argentine footballer Diego Maradona was also given a hard time in 2002 when he tried to enter Japan with a record of drug charges, though he was eventually allowed in. American role model Paris Hilton was also refused entry to Japan  last year as well, two days following her guilty plea on drug charges from Las Vegas.

Japanese stars also make such errors in judgment. Gambling is seen as a crime in Japan, unlike most other countries, where it’s an entire industry. There are some instances when gambling is legal (such as betting on horse races), but essentially the crime is so strict that any Japanese national and their mum are going to get busted if they get caught engaging in illicit gambling. Sadahide Furuichi, 35-year-old former sumo wrestler, was found guilty this week and sentenced to 10 months of prison for gambling on a baseball game. …And his mum! At age 64, she was also sent to 10 months in prison for participating.

And now you’re both going to jail for illegally betting!

There’s also a zero-tolerance policy on drinking and driving. The legal limit of intoxication via a breathalyzer test is 0. Anything higher, and you’ll be sleeping behind bars. In fact, there’s even a limit imposed on drinking and biking. No level of intoxication is permitted behind the wheel or on a bike whatsoever. However, you are allowed to drink outside if you are on foot.

Why? That’s just the way it goes in Japan.

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2 Responses to That’s Just the Way it Goes

  1. 6 8 10 says:

    The John Baker case was an interesting study in the Japanese legal system. One of my former English students was pursuing a law degree and brought up several interesting features. The wikipedia article mentions the poor translation issues, but my student had some copies of the actual translations, and they were truly horrible, in some cases nearly the direct opposite of what he’d said.

    As for gambling in Japan, I’ve seen (though never participated in) some interesting workarounds to that. Most specifically, pachinko, where you pay money to play and get tokens or some such if you win. That the tokens can be exchanged for prizes or cash seems to be beside the point. I’ve never gone into a pachinko parlor- the noise and smoke would keep me out even if I wanted to play- so I really can’t comment on it first hand.

    Speaking of workarounds, I’ve always wondered how places like Soap land can stay open considering prostitution is illegal. Again, I’ve never experienced it myself (as a foreigner, I strongly suspect I wouldn’t be allowed in even if I wanted to try), but from what I’ve heard it’s pretty much an open secret that sex can be bought there.

    And I’m not so sure that no one is above the law, with former Yakuza becoming TV show celebrities.

    • Ryo says:

      Wow, I never heard of John Baker. That is a truly twisted case.

      Oh and you’re right! It’s not true that no one is above the law. I said that Japan enforces “the notion that no one is above the law.” With all the scandals that come up in the news, we need to look no further than politicians to see such examples.

      Regarding the sex (or not sex) industry, there are hostess clubs, kyabakura, and the like, which are considered “soft.” There’s not really anything sketchy going on in there, as the soft ones are essentially paying for someone’s company. But then there are these “Soapland” places, which are considered “hard,” getting into actual sex acts of varying degrees.

      Just like President Clinton was defining sex as intercourse, so does the law in Japan. Even hard places get away with it… because “it’s not sex.” I’m sure that there are places where sexual intercourse occurs, but essentially workers can get away without breaking the law by limiting physical encounters to the other sex acts. Therefore, things like blowjobs (despite also being called “oral sex” in English) are not considered sex, and this is kind of the “legal loophole” that they exploit to stay in business. Maybe I should write a post on this sometime.

      And by the way, the fact that you’re foreign surely wouldn’t deter them from allowing you in. If you have money, they’ll have you.
      Not that I’m recommending it! 😆 I’m just saying it!

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